I’ve been meaning to check out New Zealand’s Beastwars for quite some time, but I’m ashamed to admit that the band somehow got lost in the disheveled and disorganized avalanche that is my “bands to check out” list when their self-titled debut was released back in 2011. In spite of this grievous error, it would appear the metal gods chose to smile upon me anyway, as my colleague Craig Hayes recently hooked me up with a promo of the band’s second album Blood Becomes Fire on the band’s behalf. Just one spin of the quartet’s sophomore opus had me cursing myself for a goddamn fool for not getting ’round to them sooner, because not only is this bad mama-jama right up my alley, it’s one of the all-around best metal albums I’ve heard so far in 2013.
Beastwars craft some seriously gnarl-a-docious sludge; lazy comparisons could be made to High on Fire, but these skull-crushing Kiwis are filthier, uglier and downright nastier than Matt Pike’s outfit. They also pull from a wider range of influences; although Beastwars are surely a slow ‘n’ low metal outfit, there are traces of noisy-ass Amphetamine Reptile pigfuck, smoked-out stoner rock and the heavier side of alternative rock running through the veins of Blood Becomes Fire. It’s in the weighty, ultra-distorted riffs, the loud-quiet-loud song dynamics and the unhinged vocal performance; these guys have basically taken all the things I loved about music in the nineties and combined them with a dose of churning metallic density in order to pulverize them into the present.
The band incorporates these inspirations into something that’s all their own, building on them and taking them to an even darker, heavier, weirder place. The album oozes with sinister, off-kilter electricity, sounding like the ten-ton, evil-as-fuck bastard offspring of the Melvins, The Jesus Lizard and maybe pre-suck Soundgarden (music journalist cliche red alert), as if Beastwars deliberately took what they had learned from them with the express purpose of midwifing a deadlier and more malicious, uh, beast. Indeed, Blood Becomes Fire seethes with very real aggression, often exploding into fits of violence that will leave most listeners battered, bloodied, broken and begging for another hit.
I’ve rarely heard a production scheme more suited to a band like Beastwars than that of Blood Becomes Fire. It’s thick, earthy and caked with grime, making the music sound like it’s rising up out of the black bowels of the Earth and enhancing the scrappy intensity of the individual performances. There is a ton of low end present in the mix, and the bass guitar sounds positively bulldozing, much to my delight. There just isn’t enough gnarly-ass bass tone happening in metal these days, but Beastwars bassist James Woods makes up for it and then some throughout Blood Becomes Fire. As mighty as that bass-work is, the rest of the band more than pull their weight; Matt Hyde’s vocals are part leather-lunged metal overlord, part mad end-times prophet, the man possesses a ferocious bellow that sounds like Lemmy being buried alive. Guitarist Clayton Anderson conjures up riffs that are as dark and heavy as they come, but also textured and atmospheric, while drummer Nathan Hickey pushes the lumbering monster ever forward with debilitating rhythms. These musicians work together as one like a motherfucking sludge metal Voltron to make Beastwars a singularly annihilating entity.
All of this is to say that Blood Becomes Fire is an awesome slab of sludge that ultimately transcends genre boundaries and places Beastwars firmly on top of the heavy metal heap in 2013. Over the course of ten tracks and just under forty minutes, the quartet has carved out a sound that is as infectious as it is corrosive, putting lesser bands on notice and leaving a trail of death, destruction and desolation in their wake. The scary thing is that this is only Beastwars’ second album and their path of devastation has just begun.